Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hill District Prep Sheet 3.0

The C-P cover story by Violet Law, among many other things, describes an election that the One Hill CBA Coalition held for its executive committee.

All four positions were available, among sixteen candidates.

[Councilwoman Tonya] Payne allies Pearlene Coleman and Twanda Moye took the secretary and treasurer seats respectively.

Carl Redwood, "a respected longtime convener of the Hill District Consensus Group," was elected chairman.

Bomani Howze, who must get tired of reading that he is Sala Udin's son, narrowly won vice-chair over another Tonya Payne ally.

This Saturday at 12:00, at the Hill House on Center Ave, there is a huge meeting to prioritize elements that might make it into the formal CBA proposal.

UPDATE 3.0: A Pittsburgh UNITED representative characterized it as a "big unveiling."


Hill District activist Kimberly Ellis aka Dr. Goddess also wrote a column in that same issue, about Luke Ravenstahl of all things.

She worries about the gifts the Penguins have been giving him:

Will it affect his ability to secure a Community Benefits Agreement, ensuring that Hill District residents and other stakeholders have some say in developing the 28-acre arena site, and improving the neighborhood around it?

How darling!

I am not qualified to judge whether Ravenstahl engaged in ethical violations. But I can say with certainty that fulfilling the needs of Hill residents, and holding the Penguins accountable as developers, is the most ethical thing he could possibly do. Especially if it is done the right way.

She has some suggestions as to "the right way." Spoiler alert: It's far, far more than a grocery store, and will likely not entail a Trader Joe's any time soon.


These are the words of Dr. Goddess to the Comet:

"The thing is, Tonya is 'in' with the Pens.

"Will she talk down our asks, or will she be our representative? Some people see her relationship with the Pens as an asset. I am one who does not. I saw what she did with the Pens and Isle of Capri."

Kimberly Ellis was among the many who opposed Isle of Capri -- the casino proposal in the Hill District tied to a new Penguins arena, championed by Councilwoman Payne (and Councilman Peduto, and at times Mayor Ravenstahl).

The significant and well-covered neighborhood protests must be credited -- along with key traffic concerns and Don Barden's sunny disposition -- with giving us a North Side casino and a casino-free Hill.

The Penguins went back to the drawing board to negotiate a Plan B.


We asked Dr. Goddess what Councilwoman (and URA Board Member) Payne meant by this puzzling statement during a URA / Hill District meeting in mid-June:

"If the community wants me to go to the Penguins to ask them for a CBA, I will do that," Payne said. "But I will ask them to support only the One Hill coalition -- no other terms, no other conditions."


Dr. G explains that while the City spent the winter and spring negotiating non-CBA development with the Penguins, the community was being kept in the dark.

Some residents and other stakeholders held their own meetings -- and came up with a "terms sheet," or a list of demands.

As it became evident that these organized stakeholders and their demands were gaining support, Payne settled upon Carl Redwood's Hill District Consensus Group as her new vehicle -- a group which begat the One Hill coalition.

The Comet calls this "leadership."

So not only did Payne pledge some tepid-sounding, Penguins-friendly leadership towards a CBA at that meeting -- she was trying to make sure those pesky stakeholders couldn't find a way around her again.

Unless Carl Redwood welcomed them into the fold of One Hill. Which he did. That's where we are today.

Of Wild Geese and School Students

Holy crud, we have to cover these people!


Of wild geese, the P-G's Brian O'Neill pleads, the story won't die.

He discusses the issue with David Feld of GeesePeace, who makes some good points and some bad ones, and they end up here:

We can't kill our way out of this mess, and there's a strategy that might satisfy those that revere wildlife and those disgusted by the daily drop of 400 pounds of goose feces. That seems worth a try. Meantime, if you're thinking of feeding the geese, remember that's about as smart as reaching out with what you're stepping around.

Sounds like Iraq, only substitute oil money for goose poop.

More importantly, Brian fails to come out against Dan Onorato's abrupt executive extermination.

Editorial Comment: LINK (UPDATE: Link fixed)


Of school students, the P-G's Ruth Ann Daily pleads that ...

If you live in a healthy community, one with a good mix of businesses large and small, thriving churches, bustling restaurants and a fair number of entertainment options ...

... then you should care about public schools -- and not just your own.

Nonetheless, they argue, since the public schools are doing such a poor job, we should encourage the free-market competition that vouchers would bring to the system. That would force the bad schools to shape up or lose their student bodies and funding.

I don't disagree with any of that, and if the condition of a school district like Duquesne doesn't open our minds to consider alternatives, I don't know what will.

We should have known Ruth Ann would find a way to get vouchers and charter schools into the mix, and she paints a tempting picture.

The Comet fears that these will greatly advantage only those with a parent or guardian that has the wisdom, the literacy, the inclination, and the free time to go through a rigmarole. Way too many of our children will still be left behind, in even worse public schools.

Still, she seems to arrive at her insistence out of an honest desperation.

We call on the gentleman from the Conversation. You got us in to this morass. The floor is yours.

DeSantis v Ravenstahl

Mark DeSantis came out swinging for the fences, in an article by the Trib's Brown and Boren.

"So fudging numbers or coming up with phony or phantom numbers, or giving extraordinary estimates on revenue from gambling, and all those other fun things, all the tricks you can play -- let's stop doing that"


"As a private citizen, I cannot get good numbers, and I know how to get good numbers, and I can't get them, so right away there's a problem. Informed speculation: probably bad numbers."

The Trib has the video available. It makes him sound less like Dwight K. Schrute.

He made some bold proposals: merging public safety and public works with the county, consolidating the budgets of many city "authorities" into the main budget, and an intriguing "Citizen-Police Council" to assist in determining how to best deploy law enforcement.


"PittMAPS is a new way of managing the City that will provide us with a map for Pittsburgh's future."

The P-G's Rich Lord covers Luke Ravenstahl's hiring of consultant Chuck Half to oversee the Management, Accountability, Performance, and Strategy program -- or PittMAPS.

"I'm looking for savings -- real money, and efficiencies, and just making decisions based on real data and analysis rather than the way we've done it for the last decade," said Mr. Ravenstahl yesterday.

Mr. Half's job, the mayor said, is "to really change city government."

PittMAPS is to use computerized data analysis to figure out things like what streets need what kind of paving, and seemingly far more.

Editorial Comments: If Mayor Ravenstahl has truly come around to data-driven decision making, then that is great. Huzzah!

We are as yet a bit skeptical of PittMAPS. We've heard better names on mutual funds.

The devils will be in the details: what data is collected, how the data is weighed, and when you choose to surreptitiously alter the formulas.

And perhaps most importantly, how you get started.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Series of Shootings

A pretty good piece of reporting by Ch. 11's Andy Gastmeyer.

UPDATE: We just noticed that one of the shootings was carried out with an AK-47.

Two Curious Phrases

"Some very shaky legal ground."

That is how Pat Ford, mayoral development czar, dissuaded an attempt by the City Planning Commission to get in the way of Downtown signage.

Turns out that the state Municipal Planning Code does not apply to cities of the second class. That is, to Pittsburgh. (Let alone first-class Philadelphia, h/t EM).

Long live the Home Rule Charter!

Perhaps there are other standards for shakiness out there, but we have not yet heard them.


"Galaxy of legal risks."

That is how Don Kortland, general counsel for the URA, described the consequences if the city failed to reach a settlement with the Garden, allowing them press forward to the Supreme Court.

We should say so.

Kelo et. all vs. City of New London

As reported in the P-G:

Don Kortlandt, the URA's general counsel, said he approached the theater's legal counsel after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed the owner of the North Side porn theater another defeat on appeal Dec. 27.

So the URA went to the Garden with a $1 million-plus offer. A sign of weakness.

What if the characters in today's City Paper cover story realize they can drastically alter the URA, and a hundred other economic golems like it?

How big would the payout have to be for a whole neighborhood?

Wednesday News Selection

Pittsburgh's planning commission will forge ahead with approvals needed for the proposed Majestic Star Casino, despite objections the Pirates and Steelers voiced at a public hearing yesterday. (Rich Lord, P-G)

As soon as the Majestic Star settled its beef with the Science Center, it got license to run the table.

Which is fine by the Comet; we are not bursting with sympathy for the Steelers and Pirates.

However, as a matter of due process, this is a little troubling:

Commission Chair Wrenna Watson said she spoke with acting city Solicitor George Specter. "We are to move forward, unless we have some sort of order of court," she said. That means an Aug. 7 vote.


PA State Rep Cheslea Wagner (D-Brookline) comes out swinging in a P-G op-ed against Dan Onorato's plan to fund mass transit with drink taxes and car rental taxes -- for Allegheny County.

Some of my colleagues have likened this new tax to one that exists in Philadelphia, proposing that "if Philadelphia has a 10 percent drink tax, why not Pittsburgh?" My response is simple: What's right for Philadelphia is not necessarily right for Pittsburgh. The fact that Philadelphia has a drink tax is no excuse to lay the same burden on our businesses.

That's a fair start, Wagner, but you might as well start thumping Dan-O with geese -- and with gifts.


Trib columnist Eric Heyl releases his own Ravenspeak lexicon. Example:

Yellow journalism (very bad noun) -- Any news report or opinion piece depicting the mayor as possibly less than dashing or dynamic, or implying that he can be evasive, misleading or ethically suspect. (Example: This column).

Editorial Comment: One of us! One of us! One of us!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Impeachment is Going to Happen

We were surprised to learn (h/t 2PJs) how quickly the impeachment train is building steam.

But you ain't seen nothing yet.

Rallying the troops against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and everywhere else, President Bush determines that significant numbers of U.S. forces must continue battling insurgents and establishing security straight through most of 2009. (NPR)

In other words, he is determined to make it as hard as possible for us to ever leave.

In a sideshow, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress so widely, so transparently, and so spontaneously that an independent prosecutor will soon get to work. (NPR)

No way America tolerates this.

Previously, on URA ...

May 21, 2000: Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

Four decades after promising to give East Liberty "one of the finest residential and shopping complexes in the United States," Bob Pease is back in the neighborhood he tried to save from ruin, talking about how some of his plans went awry.


After the URA demolished 1,200 homes, reduced the size of the shopping district by 1 million square feet and closed the middle of East Liberty to automobiles, the neighborhood lost hundreds of small businesses, according to one report. In the four decades that followed, it lost more than 4,500 people.


May 23, 2000 Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

May 24, 2000 Teresa F. Lindeman, P-G

May 25, 2000 Mike Rosenwald, P-G

May 26, 2000 Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

Editorial Comment: Where has the MSN been on the URA these past seven years?

Tuesday: The News So Far

East Allegheny School District suing for having been assigned 35% of Duquesne High School Students. (P-G, Team Effort)

Editorial Aside: What will their argument be? Is East Allegheny particularly nearby? Are they getting hosed just because they're another hard-luck school?


Wal-Mart steps in to offer a plan to stabilize the Kilbuck County site. (P-G, Don Hopey) They are not allowed to pursue any development until the structural work is done. One lane of traffic on Rt. 65 has been closed ever since the landslide.

Editorial Aside: The article seemed to leave the story's lead villain, Kilbuck Properties LLC, out-of-the-picture.


The P-G Diana Nelson Jones piece on the departure of URA chief Jerry Dettore features the shock and disappointment felt by others upon hearing the news: folks from the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., Oakland Business Improvement District, and East Liberty Development Inc.

It also has this:

"I was fortunate that the publicity surrounding the mayor's actions ended up" being advantageous.

"A lot of people in the region I have worked with over the years were interested," he said. "I have a number of opportunities and offers.

The Trib Jeremy Boren version plays up the bright future on the horizon for the "respected" former URA chief, and includes this note:

A provision that would have given Dettore a "golden parachute" worth a year's salary if he were fired without cause does not apply because he has chosen to leave, his contract states.

Editorial Aside: Sounds like he got tired of playing games, and elected to leave with his head held high. Imagine that.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Outragious Letter to the Editor

John McIntire wrote a column in the C-P. Andrew Ellsworth of Friendship wrote a letter:

McIntire lacks an understanding of the approval process for signage and zoning ordinances.


McIntire's proposed action is, in fact, illegal under the state Municpalities Planning Code.

Can we get an open-source legal opinion on this? We don't see the acting City Solicitor being much help.

The Comet is positive that the letter-writer is wrong. The city has established for itself some limitations on what can be allowed. It has in no way constrained itself from restricting a specific mega-sign for any reason the community deems appropriate.

Why is city planning generally not handled in a courtroom? Why not leave it up to a judge?

City planning goes before a large deliberative body, who is appointed by the mayor -- an elected official. The whole process depends on open public comments before any rulings.

Even after that, city planning kicks back up to City Council -- more elected officials.

Every step of this process suggests that the people get to have a say. The lack of an ordinance specifically forbidding this mega-sign from the U.S. Steel Tower in no way prohibits the City from exercising its discretion.

The letter writer sneers that the City can not "interpret the ordinances at their whim based on popular discontent."

As long the interpretation is honest -- it's all about popular discontent.

There are reasons that so many Pittsburghers are so ill-disposed towards the big sign. We are talking about our tallest building, and one that is also a testament to our industrial heritage.

The sign would be by far the largest, absolutely dominating our skyline -- and frankly, UPMC has not yet earned the same civic status as say, Heinz, or Mellon Bank. Status that must grow from years and decades of meaningful civic partnership.

The "legal argument" is a naked power grab: it is meant to help big business hijack powers rightly vested in the political sphere. It should be stopped before it sets worse and worse precedents.

The letter writer pleads that if we reject the application of UPMC:

That would follow the dangerous precedent set out by the Bush administration -- selectively obeying laws that were meaningfully crafted by other parts of government.

There are so many things wrong with that analogy, we cannot even get started. The ordinances of which we speak are intended to be interpreted strictly, and to leave all other powers in the hands of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Anybody who can find a way to drag George W. Bush into this, is working awfully hard in support of UPMC's latest power play.

Loading ...